Don’t Throw Away Your Shot…the Cold Truth About Vaccine Handling and Storage

  • By PureAire
  • 18th November, 2020


In modern times, vaccines have been widely used to keep people healthy by protecting them from serious illnesses and diseases. Worldwide, vaccines annually prevent millions of deaths, and their utilization is responsible, in many parts of the globe, for the nearly total eradication of numerous diseases, including polio, measles, and smallpox.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (the “CDC”), a vaccine for a specific disease stimulates an individual’s immune system, causing it to produce antibodies to counteract the antigens associated with the disease in question, just as one’s immune system would do if one were actually exposed to the disease. The concept is that, after getting vaccinated, the inoculated patient develops immunity to the disease without first having to contract it. Unlike medicines, which are used to treat or cure diseases, vaccines are intended to prevent them.

Handling and Storage of Vaccines

Developing a vaccine can take years before it is deemed safe for human use and, thereafter manufactured and made available for widespread distribution and inoculation. Throughout the manufacturing and  distribution process, and up to the time of administration, a vaccine must be kept in strict climate-controlled environments, collectively referred to as the “cold chain.” The CDC describes a cold chain as a temperature-controlled supply chain that includes all vaccine-related equipment and procedures. The vaccine cold chain begins with a cold storage unit at the vaccine manufacturing plant, extends to the transport and delivery of the vaccine (including proper storage at the provider facility), and ends with the administration of the vaccine to the patient. A breakdown in protocols anywhere along the cold chain could reduce the effectiveness of, or even destroy, a vaccine.

According to FedEx, while most  vaccines have traditionally been transported in a cold temperature range of 2 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees Celsius, certain vaccine manufacturers and pharmaceutical firms require a much lower temperature range within the cold chain associated with specific vaccine products.

Dry ice, which is the common name for solid (i.e., frozen) carbon dioxide, is often used in cold chains to maintain the very cold temperatures required to keep certain vaccines viable. At a temperature of approximately -78.5 degrees Celsius (equating to  -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit), dry ice is significantly colder than frozen water (that is, conventional ice), making it ideal for transport and storage of those vaccines requiring an extremely cold temperature environment.

Safely Tracking Carbon Dioxide Levels When Working with Dry Ice

Safety precautions are critical when shippers use dry ice in the transportation and storage of vaccines. Unlike conventional ice, dry ice does not melt into a liquid. Instead,  dry ice “sublimates” (changes from a solid to a gas state), turning into carbon dioxide gas. In small, poorly ventilated spaces, such as storage rooms and closets, cargo vans, trucks, and airplanes, carbon dioxide can build up, creating a potentially serious health risk.

Carbon dioxide is an oxygen-depleting gas that is both odorless and colorless. As such, absent appropriate monitoring, workers involved with the transportation and/or storage of products frozen with dry ice likely would be unable to detect if dry ice were to begin to sublimate, with carbon dioxide gas levels possibly rising to unsafe levels. When there is not enough oxygen in the air, persons working in the affected area may become disoriented, lose consciousness, or even suffocate due to the lack of oxygen

Fortunately, by utilizing a top-quality oxygen monitor, also known as an oxygen deficiency monitor, vaccine transportation storage personnel can track oxygen levels and detect (and react to) dangerous carbon dioxide levels before employee health is jeopardized.

PureAire Dual Oxygen/Carbon Dioxide Monitor

PureAire Monitoring Systems’ Dual Oxygen/Carbon Dioxide Monitor offers thorough air monitoring, with no time-consuming maintenance or calibration required.  A screen displays current oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, for at-a-glance reading by employees, who derive peace of mind from the Monitor’s presence and reliable performance.

In the event that dry ice begins to sublimate, causing carbon dioxide levels to rise, and oxygen to decrease to unsafe levels, PureAire’s Monitor will  set off an alarm, complete with horns and flashing lights, alerting personnel to evacuate the area.

Our Dual Oxygen/Carbon Dioxide Monitor is well-suited for industries where dry ice is used, such as in the handling, transportation, and storage of life-saving vaccines. The Monitor includes both a non-depleting, zirconium oxide sensor cell, to monitor oxygen levels, and a non-dispersive infrared (NDIR) sensor cell, to monitor carbon dioxide levels. Known for their dependability, PureAire’s O2/CO2 Monitors can last, trouble free, for over 10 years under normal operating conditions.